The beauty of the recent boom of the indie market is that quite often you'll find games which allude to the golden age of gaming, whether via a similar pixel art style, subtle or overt references to retro titles, or entire homages to games of yore. MURI essentially flips that idea on its head and instead is a game made entirely as if it were 1988 again. A self-described DOS-style shooter, MURI is as authentic an experience as they come.
As the title sequence introduces you to some tone-setting 8-bit melody, straight away it feels as if you've blown the dust off the NES you've had ensconced in the loft for two decades and switched it on. Colour variation is kept to a minimum, sound effects are nice and pewpewpew, and animation is wonderfully simple.
So, what is MURI? Well, it's a pink and white weaponised robot suit, of course. This suit is donned by the game's female protagonist, Adwoa, who uses it to fight back against the robot armies that have appeared everywhere. All set to infiltrate Mars, the whole planet vanishes, and through 20 episodic chapters Adwoa begins to find out just what happened here. The plot is totally nuts and isn't going to win any awards, but it's the perfect setting for an 80s sci-fi platformer. It's just not meant to make sense.
MURI is a very simple platformer at heart, and bravely foregoing a great deal of modern tweaks we take entirely for granted (things such as particle explosions and inertia), it is evident that a great deal of effort has gone into making a game so perfectly simple. MURI handles clumsily mapped controls well, and gives you the option of changing your 'joystick' controls too, knowing full well no-one's owned a joystick since the days of the Zipstick on the Commodore Amiga. Instead you can map your controls to your liking, going full-on WASD for a little more authenticity, or use a wired Xbox 360 controller. Either way it'll take a few goes of trial and error to get it to your liking as it's not instantly clear what you're mapping. To duck is essential in MURI but you'd only find that out halfway through the first level when you've realised you've mapped it to a totally inconvenient button, only to have to restart the entire game to reconfigure it.
However, this is only a minor issue and MURI is so much more authentic to its subject matter than mere bad controls. From having a finite quota of lives, taxing boss battles where some enemies take up the entirety of the screen, right down to a permanent HUD displaying energy, weapons and ammo, it was a real joy to play through MURI's fun, albeit short campaign. Weighing in at approximately two hours, MURI is much, much shorter and easier to complete than the games from which it's riffing. The only real modern element is a notion of garnering 100% completion by finding all the collectibles on each level, which can expand the playtime but not by much.
Through secret, invisible walls and turbolifts can you find all sorts of pick-ups and power-ups ranging from joysticks and floppy discs, a timely nod to the era the game parodies, serving only to up your score and help achieve the 100% target, to energy cells, weapons and extra lives. Levels are quite short, but scouting all the elusive collectibles can double the length of each level. The energy cells serve as keys which can open certain doors which house the more powerful arsenal, and oftentimes you'll find yourself with one cell and a choice of multiple doors to open. Choosing wisely is easy, as you can normally see what treats you'll be unlocking. The key, so to speak, is not to get excited and open the first door you see, this will often be the worst choice of those above you or in the next room. It pays to recon the area before deciding.
Enemies naturally begin as easy target fodder and as you progress become more robust and challenging to take down, but all the while adhering to a predictable AI. You aren't just stuck with having to shoot the many robots either, if the situation allows, you can dispatch these walking toasters with Mario-style jumping on their heads. While seeming a little out of place in a game where its primary concern is firefights and bullet dodging, it adds a nice little tactic for the more dexterous gamers when a shower of bullets comes at you from every which way. The most nostalgic part of MURI is in overcoming the impossible, harking back to games like Mega Man and I Wanna Be The Guy where bullets and general danger fills the screen, coming at you thick and fast, and through a combination of skill, luck, instinct and determination you can walk away relatively unscathed.
The story and level design, while superficially limited in scope, work well hand in hand to provide a cheesy sci-fi romp (my favourite line of dialogue begins “When you absorbed Mars...”) in the form of small cutscenes between levels, which in turn set up the next couple of levels. Each world looks and feels different, a triumph given a limited colour palette and unvaried enemies, and the difficulty curve is well managed. The first couple of levels are a breeze; robots pose almost no threat and you never really feel lost; and the last couple are taxing and will have you either tactically holding back and picking as many enemies off before facing the brunt of the opposition or going full-on Leroy Jenkins.
It's a brave decision bringing a DOS-style adventure to the masses in 2013, but MURI does pretty much everything right. For starters it's very cheap. Even though the game is overall very short, the trip down memory lane lives on long after you solve the Martian mystery. The pixelated graphics, 8-bit title screen music and fuzzy sounds are expertly crafted by evident children of the age without the taint of modernism. There's an element of replay value, too, as increasing difficulty gives you a bonus multiplier to your score, and hunting for 100% on each level is always achievable without seeming tiresome and a chore. Maybe for an extra couple of quid I'd have been happy for a game twice the size, but as it stands MURI sets the bar for retro reimagining in gaming.